Mahogany Bay Village is a recent addition to Belize’s blooming tourism industry.

Belize was pretty much just a speck on the tourism radar before the millennium, but its Caribbean charms are finally attracting hospitality development. And now the former British colony may be at the ideal tipping point for luxury tourism — Belize just began offering four-star comfort fairly recently, but, far from being overrun with tourists, it retains its authentic Mayan flavor. indeed, tripadvisor declared San Pedro its No. 1 destination in Central America for 2016. (more on San Pedro later.)
During a recent visit, I was surprised to learn something scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts already know – the Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s second largest after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The 190-mile section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, home to 500 species of fish and 65 of stony corals, was praised by Charles Darwin as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” in 1842. It still is, thanks to the government’s dedication to sustainable tourism, requiring divers to swim to the reef from boats anchored a short but protective distance away.
The most popular launching pad to the reef is Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island, although at 25 miles long by 1 mile wide, you can still wrap your arms around it. You can reach the island 35 miles off the mainland by puddle jumper in a snappy (but occasionally unnerving) 15 minutes. Madonna literally sang its praises in her 1987 song, “La Isla Bonita” (“The Beautiful Island”), a common nickname. The caye’s largest town is historic San Pedro, still casual enough that most people there travel by golf cart, not car (another ecologically cool plus). And these days, new hotel and condo construction is dotting the area. Not surprisingly, the country’s stayover tourist arrivals in the first six months of 2018 jumped 17.1 percent over the same period the year before, according to the Belize Tourism Board.
Such numbers are music to the ears of savvy American entrepreneur Beth Clifford. A veteran real-estate developer, Clifford saw Belize’s potential around the millennium (before San Pedro’s streets were even paved), when she started working on Mahogany Bay Village (mahoganybayvillage.com) — her first hotel project and Belize’s first global luxury-branded resort, affiliated with Hilton Worldwide’s Curio Collection — by compiling land parcels at the southern tip of San Pedro to form a 60-acre reserve. Despite the Hilton brand, Mahogany Bay, which officially opened in December, doesn’t have the corporate ambience you might expect — it’s really all about the personal touch of the owner/CEO, who frequently logs 12 hours keeping the place up to four-star snuff.
Eco-friendly Mahogany Bay Village is the country’s largest resort with a 207-key hotel featuring cottage- and villa-style accommodations, 150 private residences for investors who can include them in the resort’s rental pool (with more under construction), a marina, a beach club, a wellness center, shops and restaurants. Yet it feels like, well, a small village, with airy cottages from studios to five bedrooms evoking the country’s colonial past, when it was British Honduras. (With English as the official language and more competitive pricing than longer-established tourist destinations, Belize is also attracting retirees.) Gifford clad the property in tasteful rustic chic, with Belizean hardwoods, full-length porches and atmospheric wood ceiling fans (in addition to air-conditioning).
Definitely visit the resort’s fine restaurants, particularly Jyoto Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar and the Verandah, with its haute take on Caribbean cuisine. But no trip abroad would be complete without sampling some authentic local food, yes? No problem in San Pedro. Its 75 restaurants are just a short golf cart ride away. Try Elvi’s Kitchen (elviskitchen.com), where I enjoyed creamy Belizean seré, with shrimp, green plantains, onions and coconut milk.

Can giving bring you better health, more joy and a longer life? Pasadena psychologist Annette Ermshar says yes, it can.

We all know two kinds of people: those who give and those who don’t. People we’d turn to in times of emotional or financial crisis, and those we’d avoid because they always seem too focused on themselves. Of course, we’d probably never think to categorize our friends and family that way, but mental health professionals have found such classifications to be a rewarding subject of study. Pasadena resident Annette Ermshar is one of those pros. A clinical psychologist with a private practice in San Marino, Ermshar has a Ph.D. in clinical and neuropsychology and a post-doctoral master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology; she’s also a board-certified diplomate in forensic psychology, which is the intersection of law and mental health.
At 45, Ermshar has already seen the best and the worst sides of human nature. She now spends most of her time in private practice with “regular” clients who seek help and healing for challenges that affect their work and personal lives, but she also spent 16 years on staff at San Bernadino’s maximum-security Patton State Hospital, which treats mentally disordered, violent and insane individuals who’ve been remanded there by the courts. She is a mental health assessment expert for both state and federal courts and is on staff at Las Encinas mental health hospital in Pasadena.
We talked with Ermshar for this philanthropy issue because she’s also an expert on the subject of giving and its effects on mental and physical health. She has written and delivered talks on the subject, and is quite a giver herself. She says she has volunteered “countless hours” of her time for various nonprofits (the list is too long to print here) and she and her husband of nine years, Dan Monahan, have given financial support to organizations that promote the arts as well as the welfare of adults and children in need. Ermshar is chairman of the board of directors for Adventist Health Glendale Foundation, board vice president for the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, board vice-chair of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and a board member of The Music Center’s Blue Ribbon. She was formerly on the Seaver Board of Visitors of Pepperdine University (where she received her B.A. in 2000) for over a decade.
Ermshar grew up in La Caňada Flintridge and earned her Ph.D. from Loma Linda University (which is both of her parents’ alma mater) and her postdoctoral master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology from Alliant International University. We asked her to talk about what givers get from giving.

Many associate the word “philanthropy” with rich people who donate large sums of money, but the word actually comes from the ancient Greek and simply means kindliness, benevolence and a love of humanity. I notice you don’t much use the word philanthropy in your talks but seem to prefer the word generosity, and you always link it to the benefits that accrue to those who give rather than to those who receive.
Yes, in my talks, I describe the physical and mental health benefits of generosity. If you look at the subject of giving as a whole, when we give of ourselves — whether it’s our time, our energy or our money — we are certainly benefitting others but we are also receiving a significant benefit to ourselves. There’s a wealth of research that shows that altruism and generosity have immense benefits to the giver. In general, the act of giving promotes mental and physical health, promotes positive brain changes that are associated with happiness, reduces our stress levels and even helps us live longer. There are scientific studies showing all of those things.

So generosity and altruism can mean any kind of giving, whether it’s emotional or financial support, or time donated volunteering — anything that is of benefit to others rather than to oneself?
Yes.

You’ve said that spending money on others actually produces a greater level of happiness than spending it on yourself. That’s surprising.
Yes, there’s some really great science on that. Let me give you just one example: Researchers reviewed fMRIs [functional magnetic resonance images, which measure and map brain activity] and they found that the same reward system activated in the brain with someone who received money is also activated in the brain of those who give money to others. That means the brain and the body experience positive benefits from choosing altruism over personal or selfish interests. Ultimately the giver experiences greater happiness by giving to others rather than by giving to themselves.

You say that giving benefits physical health and reduces stress. Can you explain a bit more?
That’s right. Emotions related to altruism help to stabilize the immune system and help to fight against the immune-suppressing effects of stress. On the contrary, shame and selfishness are linked to higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is the body’s main stress hormone. Acts of altruism also reduce pain by stimulating the brain to release “the happy hormones,” or endorphins, which are natural painkillers.

You’ve referred to studies that suggest those who give or volunteer can experience what’s called a “helper’s high” along with other significant benefits. Can you elaborate?
Yes, so among retirees, for example, researchers found that those who volunteer score significantly higher in life satisfaction and the will to live, compared to those that did not volunteer. Likewise, researchers reported fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and somatization [medical symptoms with no discernable cause] among individuals who volunteered. Altruism is often linked to deeper and more positive social integration, distraction from personal problems and distraction from anxiety. Giving has been shown to lend enhanced meaning and purpose in life and a sense of well-being.

Do the same health and happiness benefits accrue to those who support only close family members and close friends as opposed to those who support strangers and causes unrelated to them?
I think research would show that any time one is giving support to others, benefits accrue to the giver. Research shows that those who give social support to others have greater life expectancy and those others can be family or anyone else. I’ve seen research with the elderly who were taking over the role of parenting because their adult child either worked or had some kind of illness or addiction. This kind of parenting or grandparenting among the elderly resulted in very positive physical and mental health benefits to them. And as far as volunteering outside the family, a UC Berkeley study found that elderly people who volunteer for two or more organizations are 44 percent more likely to live longer than others who do not. So volunteering among the elderly is associated with lower risk of mortality, for sure. There’s also a great Duke University study of individuals with post-coronary artery disease. Those individuals who volunteered after their heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression, which are two factors linked to increased mortality in this type of patient.

Do altruism and generosity depend on empathy?
I think they all go hand in hand: Altruism, empathy, generosity, compassion, those all work in harmony, they’re all sort of a similar construct. But you could have empathy and compassion, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you are giving. To be giving requires a step beyond all those traits, where you are actually taking action.

But in order to want to give, doesn’t one need to experience empathy and compassion?
Yes, that’s true.

A university study done recently found that three out of four students showed 50 percent less empathy than 30 years ago, and that the emergence of social media in the early 2000s helped to greatly accelerate that trend. Researchers said that texting instead of talking one-on-one eliminates the emotional connection, and that leads to lack of empathy. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed a drop in volunteerism among younger adults.
I’m not sure about the data you’re referring to because what’s very interesting to me is that there are a lot of millennials very interested in larger social causes and social justice, and I think that is a form of giving to others. Maybe not on an individual scale, but on a larger scale. And there’s a new trend of the millennial generation joining boards, with major corporations including 20somethings on their boards of directors. Heretofore this never really existed. For example, the hospital where I’m chairman of the board — we have someone on the board of directors who is in her 20s. This is just so wonderful because she has a great perspective and energy and has a donor demographic that is really important to include for any organization.

How did you get so involved with philanthropy and its effects on givers? You seem to have turned it into a kind of second vocation.
There are a few reasons. First, I was raised in a family that was very philanthropic and generous with their time and money, so it was a value I received from my parents. Second, because I do a lot of philanthropy, I wanted to better appreciate the effects it has on me. Third, I’m in the business of treating individuals for their mental health, inspiring in them hope and healing. It is really clear to me that generosity and giving is very beneficial to one’s mental health, which is what I’m in the business of doing. I’m constantly encouraging my clients to volunteer and engage in various forms of generosity.
When there’s a demonstrable reduction in despair and depression and a greater sense of purpose in life, you know, that’s music to my ears because that’s the whole dedication of my career.

Marguerite Marsh’s Life of Service

On an early August morning when many of us were barely holding it together in the stultifying heat, Marguerite Marsh was fielding telephone calls, consulting with her personal assistant and planning a visit to the nonprofit she cofounded. She was dolled up in hot pink leggings, a bright aqua tunic dotted with pink flowers, plus matching sandals and eye shadow. She topped the look with coordinated gold link jewelry.
The 91-year-old Marsh is known for her charisma and empathy. “She’s a light like no other when she enters a room,” says Suzanne Gilman, who has served with Marsh as board members/supporters of Cancer Support Community Pasadena and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. “She is always impeccably dressed, beautifully coiffed; her style tends to be a little bit flamboyant, a little bit spicy,” she says, adding that Marsh is “the only person I know who could actually pull off wearing a feather boa.”
Marsh’s vibrant personality, zest for life and deep commitment to philanthropy has earned her many admirers. She’s a model of how much one person can accomplish and contribute. “I have a very curious mind,” says Marsh, a former therapist with a Ph.D. in psychology. “I love to keep learning and doing and helping.” She says she adores fashion, and if her outfits “can bring joy to other people, that makes me happy too.”
Marsh, in fact, used to make all her own clothes and belongs to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Costume Council. This is how a chat with Marsh goes: Ask about her interest in music and you’ll discover she’s an accomplished singer (mezzo alto) who soloed with regional orchestras and even sang opera professionally in restaurants. Inquire about hobbies and you’ll learn she’s a pilot, equestrian, tennis player, skier and, most of all, fervent volunteer.
Marsh’s peripatetic interests stem from what Bettina Luttrell identifies as her “insatiable curiosity.” Luttrell is a Maryland-based painter and gallery owner who has known Marsh since fourth grade. “She’s a very sensitive, caring person. And she’s very generous.”
Marsh’s devotion to good works is rooted in her Seventh-day Adventist upbringing. Her father was a minister and missionary; her mother, a teacher. She was born in Shanghai in 1927, relocated to London and then grew up primarily in Takoma Park, Maryland, near the Adventists’ world headquarters. Her family followed the Adventist lifestyle, which included a nearly vegetarian diet, exercise and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. And they observed the Sabbath on Saturdays. “I never felt deprived,” she says. “I feel very fortunate. My parents were very practical Middle Westerners.”
Just prior to her high school graduation, Marsh’s father took on fundraising for the new Adventist medical school in Loma Linda, so the family moved west. She’d sung in church choir since adolescence and chose to study music at La Sierra University in Riverside. (Marsh has endowed a scholarship for singers at this Adventist college.) “My father wanted me to be a doctor. My mother wanted me to get married and do the music,” she says. If you count the doctor of philosophy, she did both.
Marguerite may not have become a medical doctor, but she married one. She met Robert L. Marsh because their parents were college classmates. They married when she was 21. Robert, a surgeon, graduated from Loma Linda in 1943, served in the Air Force in World War II and practiced medicine in Glendale for 37 years. He was also a singer (tenor), and the two enjoyed performing together at social events.
Marguerite Marsh went on to study voice at USC and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. She sang in her church choir and was hired to solo with the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. “Now I was singing on Sunday as well as Saturday,” she recalled in a 2005 speech to students at La Sierra, “and finding those we used to call ‘outsiders’ were really kind and appreciative people.” She was invited to join the Glendale Symphony board, which led to her joining a slew of cultural and civic institutions, including the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. Master Chorale board, the L.A. Music Center Blue Ribbon (a women’s support group founded by Dorothy Chandler), the Adventist Health Glendale Foundation board and the Opera League of L.A.
Then a young mother, she continued to perform, raise her two children — Christopher and Victoria — and volunteer through her church and at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. The Marshes enjoyed traveling and visited some 90 countries. Six trips included “medical missions” for which they volunteered in hospitals and medical clinics in the developing world, including Africa, the South Pacific, Asia and South America. This is among the work Marsh is most proud of. “It was not easy, but unforgettable. I always felt I got more in return than I gave,” she says. It prompted her to enroll in anthropology classes at Glendale Community College. “I realized I needed to know more about the tribes we were working with,” she explains.
Around her 39th birthday, her kids nearly grown, Marsh reevaluated her life. At dinner one night, she turned to Robert and said, “I want to find out who I am.” He was confused. So she explained: “I have been my parents’ daughter, I am also your wife. I am my children’s mother…but who is Marguerite?”
Marsh had started keeping a list of goals when she was 22. “I just wrote down some of the things I wanted to do,” she says. “The list became a powerful tool.” She would file it away but pull it out regularly to see if she was on track. On her list: “flying” and “psychology.” She told Robert she wanted to learn to pilot small planes and study psychology. She said, “I may shock you now when I say that I really want to learn how to dance.” (Traditionally, Adventists viewed dancing as a “worldly amusement” that should be shunned.) To his credit, Robert, also an Adventist, supported her through it all.
Marsh enrolled in a master’s program in marriage and family counseling at Phillips Graduate University in Encino. In 1979, she set up a practice in her husband’s medical office, as well as at her church. At the church, she led seminars, teen groups and women’s groups. She earned her doctorate from Kensington University, a now-defunct correspondence school. For her dissertation, she compared private and church counseling programs.
After 24 years in Glendale, the Marshes moved to La Caňada Flintridge, where she lived for more than two decades until they downsized to a condominium in Pasadena. In the late 1980s, an acquaintance pressed Marsh to do something to support the psychological needs of cancer patients. So she observed therapists at Santa Monica’s The Wellness Community (now the Cancer Support Community Los Angeles), a support group for survivors and their families, and decided to start a chapter in Pasadena. With the help of three others, in 1990, she launched the highly successful Wellness Community–Foothills. Known today as Cancer Support Community Pasadena, this chapter has served over 24,000 people with groups and workshops run by specially trained mental-health professionals.
Raising the funds to launch the nonprofit was a major undertaking — one that deployed many of Marsh’s talents. “She’s a tremendous influencer,” says Gilman. “And there’s definitely a steel structure underneath that beautifully dressed, charming woman.” Despite her abundant energy and varied interests, Marsh is focused and organized. Gilman says she “very carefully selects how she wants to serve and remains loyal to serving that group.”
Marsh is still devoted to the Music Center and the L.A. Master Chorale, especially their outreach programs for children. “I feel that if you have children who get interested in music, they have a whole different take on life,” she says. “They rarely get into trouble if they get into music.”
The last four years have been hard ones for Marsh: first her husband and then her daughter passed away. Yet she finds joy in her grand- and great-granddaughters and believes that her involvement in the arts has eased the pain. Encouragement from friends at Cancer Support Community Pasadena has also helped. “I think we’re all here for a reason,” she says, “and if I can make the world a little better, then I’m really happy.”

Longtime Pasadena philanthropists Bill and Judy Opel share fundraising tips and insights into the past, present and future of charitable giving.

sk Bill and Judy Opel about what they think is the most effective fundraising technique in these days of customizable analytics, sophisticated online tracking programs and upscale black-tie charity events. Scratch ’em all, they say. Just put on the coffee pot.
“Sitting down with someone personally and sharing a cup of coffee can be one of the most effective fundraising events and you don’t have to spend much money,” says Bill, a lifelong Pasadena resident with a career that spans more than five decades in both medical research and executive nonprofit administration. “Just sit and have coffee and talk. Maybe follow that up with a phone call and stay in touch.” That personalized, no-frills attention can make all the difference in landing a big donor or, on the flip side, finding an organization that will make you, a potential benefactor, feel proud to support it, says Bill.
Bill and wife Judy have witnessed how the landscape of charitable giving (financial donations and volunteering) has evolved over the years. Bill has seen philanthropy as both grant-maker and grant-taker, having served at Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI) for 53 years as president/CEO (and previously, executive director) in addition to his first 10 years as a lab researcher.
Back in 1982, Bill was instrumental in unifying the Pasadena Foundation for Medical Research (PFMR) with the Huntington Institutes of Applied Medical Research to create HMRI. During his tenure, Bill oversaw donations of tens of millions of dollars to fund research. He recently retired from HMRI and is currently active in several local nonprofits.
Likewise, Judy, in addition to being a teacher, has been active in charitable endeavors for decades, and because of her social networking is fondly known as “the first lady” of HMRI. She also served as president of the Altadena Guild of Huntington Memorial Hospital and volunteered regularly there. She was instrumental in fundraising for the L.A. County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, chairing the annual Baldwin Bonanza plant sale in 1976. Today, she still gets her hands dirty with The Arboretum’s Compulsive Gardeners group.
Perhaps the biggest change the Opels have observed in philanthropy over the years is in its sheer scale — how big and international it has become, with organizations raising money 24/7. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofits are registered in the U.S. and there are millions more worldwide.
Giving USA reports that for the first time ever, charitable giving exceeded $400 billion in 2017, relecting an impressive $14.27 billion increase in individual giving (topping $286 billion) along with substantial gains in bequests and donations by foundations and corporations.
Gone are the days when Judy would enlist surgeons’ wives to cook casseroles for a casual sit-down dinner with potential donors at a medical researcher’s house. “It was all pretty amateur by today’s standards,” says Bill. “We didn’t have an event coordinator or use a caterer, and we didn’t have a high-priced development director,” adds Judy, noting how the professionalization of fundraising has elevated the causal event into a highly curated experience.
Indeed, directed by well-compensated development executives, today’s nonprofits are vying for donor dollars by reaching across many platforms to advertise their differences from other organizations. But the multitude of choices can be daunting for donors — it’s now a bigger challenge to decide what and where to contribute.
An informative website is a good first step, says Bill (“I always look at the scientific publications and reports they have done”), stressing that numbers can be deceiving, especially client numbers. “The fact that you cared for or served so many is just a head count — that’s pretty objective,” he says. “Everyone can tell you that they are doing great stuff, but where is the evidence? Where’s the meat?”
The Opels appreciate how some unbiased websites, like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, rate nonprofits but say that potential donors still need to dig deeper to find out how truly effective an organization is. “With a lot of charities, you go to a social event and often don’t see the people they are helping,” says Bill. “The events I really love are when there is an open house and you can see the faces and hear personal stories.”
Consider community colleges, continues Bill, where many incoming students arrive academically struggling but leave renewed. “The fact that your school turned them into accomplished learners who can achieve is more impressive than a high-end selective university that already gets great kids enrolling,” explains Bill.
Some entities are more transparent than others. Support the Pasadena Symphony or the Sierra Madre Playhouse, and it will be easy to see where your money is going — it’s right there on the stage. But other causes’ activities can be more opaque. Explaining HMRI’s complicated science and research needs to benefactors was a challenge for Bill, who learned early the benefits of telling a human story.
In the 1960s, Bill was a cell biologist working in the El Molino Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PMRI) facility, one of the first research centers to grow human cell and tissue cultures to study cancers. Researchers received small and directed National Institutes of Health grants. “The main discretionary money we got was from grateful patients,” he says, launching into the story of a life insurance salesman stricken with neck and jaw cancer from smoking cigars. Using radiation techniques developed at PFMR, the man recovered and, despite losing half a tongue, was as loquacious as ever and able to continue his high-pressure career. He became a big donor to the lab.
Examine an organization’s newsletters and publications, question other donors and research what that nonprofit has done to “move the needle,” says Bill. “My objective at HMRI was to make meaningful improvements in how medicine is practiced. I can show you how that improved every year.”
Above all, long-lasting nonprofits have to communicate a message that addresses the brain and the heart: “Will my money be well spent?” and “Is this donation the right thing to do?”

Baby Boomers Passing On Wealth
Pressure on the giving community will be compounded in the coming years, when Baby Boomers pass on their inheritance to their children. “It will be the biggest transference of wealth in the nation’s history,” says Bill. A new generation can change the direction of charitable giving, especially when it comes to assuming leadership of family foundations. New generations may have completely different interests from the relative who started the charity decades ago. “It’s not a given that the kids will continue down the path,” says Bill, who sees current social issues such as homelessness and mental health getting more play in the philanthropic spotlight.
Volunteering has also evolved. In the early 1960s, charitable women’s clubs were the main social outlet for many stay-at-home wives/moms. Judy recalls daylong club meetings that often involved lunch, card games and socializing. Today’s volunteers want a more active engagement with the people they help, she says. “My daughter started doing volunteer work in high school, and said, ‘I don’t want to do those social things,’” she says. “In law school she volunteered for a group that delivered meals to AIDS patients. She wanted her volunteering to be directly meaningful.”
While many old-school clubs have faded away, some — like the Altadena Guild — have stayed relevant. Judy credits forward-thinking leadership that re-prioritized to attract working women by changing meeting hours and providing more opportunities for hands-on volunteering.
Even philanthropic products have changed over the decades. You used to send in a check and get a little memorial gift — a card or your name in the newsletter. Now donors can choose from a myriad of ways to financially support an organization, through planned giving, family foundations or a trust gift annuity, to name just a few.
Endowments have also changed the landscape for nonprofits. “HMRI didn’t have an endowment when it was started and by the time I left, there was $40 million in the endowment reserve fund,” says Bill. Today many large medical organizations, including hospitals, have solid endowments (in the past, they didn’t need to compete for dollars to fill funding gaps then covered by operating revenue and government grants).
On a smaller scale, the Opels are creating their own endowment legacy. Bill and Judy launched one of 117 unrestricted endowment family funds managed by the Pasadena Community Foundation (PCF), an entity that also has also seen dramatic philanthropic changes in the last five decades. “When I arrived 15 years ago, the PCF had $16 in assets. Today, we have $80 million,” says President and CEO Jennifer DeVoll, adding that PCF started with 40 to 55 funds. Today it has 350.
While community foundations that pool funds have been around for 100 years, DeVoll says there has been an upsurge of interest and participation, especially in unrestricted endowments that rely on careful management to assist worthy local start-ups and businesses. The Opels are happy their fund can support organizations for today’s needs, as well as for groups and causes yet to emerge. “After we have passed away, our fund can still be making donations in our name,” says Judy.
While old-school philanthropy may seem quaint by today’s standards, the Opels think that people working together for a common cause fuels giving. In the 1950s, the genesis of the PFMR took place at a Pasadena cocktail party where friends were commiserating about the loss of a buddy from cancer. “Let’s do something about it!” they said between martinis. Then someone mentioned a guy they knew doing research — and the rest is history.
“It was formed because there was a group of people that wanted to address a problem,” says Bill. “You and your friends could be regulars at the 35er [Bar in Pasadena], and what if your bartender got sick? You would all work together to do something about it, to help that person you cared about. You’re mobilizing for a cause, for a noble purpose. The cocktail party is only the beginning.”

Don’t look to New York for tips on finding SoCal serenity. We’ve got your tips right here. By Leslie Bilderback

Arecent New York Times travel section article about finding quiet spaces of refuge in Los Angeles, away from the “gridlock and glamour,” drew a lot of scorn from Angelenos, and rightly so. In addition to sounding like an eighth-grader wrote it, full of clichés and generalizations, the story showed zero understanding of the area. When it appeared online early in the week, there was a flood of complaints. But the article was published in the paper the following Sunday anyway, only slightly edited. I was shocked that, after all the hubbub, it still found its way onto my driveway. The following week the paper printed an apology, but it was halfhearted, and less than sincere. In essence, their excuse was, “writing is hard guys, so give us a break.”
The problem with articles about L.A. written by outsiders is that they know not of which they speak. The rest of the world might think Los Angeles is miserable and phony, but we know better. (Just let them think that, and maybe they’ll keep their distance.) It may come as a shock to you, but Los Angeles is not beloved by the rest of the country. I know, because I was raised in the Bay Area, where we are taught to loathe L.A. at a very early age. (Angelenos have no idea this is happening.) When I moved here, I got condolence letters, and I still have friends who refuse to visit on principle. It took me a while to shed that brainwashing. Years. But now I love and appreciate this part of California. I love the history, the region and the tolerance. Given the state of our nation, I’m feeling fairly smug that I live here, in what is a relative bubble of tolerance.
The author of the L.A. piece, a well-regarded novelist and frequent contributor to The New York Times travel section, writes in a distinctive, flowery style. It’s not my cup of tea, but it is obviously someone’s because he is, as mentioned, a well-regarded novelist. Much has already been written about this piece (most humorously by LAist) — its generalizations, its disregard of culture and its lack of understanding of our diverse city. So I won’t pile on. Instead, I want to offer up a list of actual places offering refuge in the Pasadena area.
The NYT article featured the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, which I’m sure you are already familiar with. But not everyone has 25 bucks to shell out for entry (or don’t not know about the free day on the first Thursday of the month). For a similar excursion, you could spend only $9 to visit the Los Angeles County Arboretum or Descanso Gardens (free days are on the third Thursday and third Tuesday, respectively). These are fine places and make great outings when you have out-of-town guests. But when it’s just me, I prefer the free options. Luckily, in our vicinity there are tons of public parks and open spaces to enjoy. Pack a picnic and head out to one of these spots for a respite from outsiders:

THE ARROYO SECO
Because you are reading Arroyo Monthly, I will start with our namesake river. It flows from the San Gabriels to the Los Angeles River (the confluence is under the junction of the 110 and 5 Freeways), and you can walk almost the entire way. There is a network of paths with many spots to stop and picnic along the way. Sections in South Pasadena, Pasadena and Altadena are tended, but there are many wild, secluded spots to stop at and enjoy. (And they are not all adjacent to freeways!)
The River Garden Park (formerly Lawry’s California Center — 570 West Ave. 26, between Figueroa Street and San Fernando Road) has plenty of picnic spots and an exhibition hall celebrating the river’s history.
The Arroyo Woodland and Wildlife Nature Park in South Pasadena (Pasadena Avenue, north of the York Boulevard Bridge) is a relatively new addition to the riverfront. It has winding paths, with interpretive signs indicating native flora and fauna. From here you can take an easy trail along the golf course and soccer fields to the popular Upper Arroyo Park.
Extending from just south of the San Pascual Stables in South Pasadena to the Colorado Street Bridge, the Upper Arroyo Park has several well-loved trails with rich vegetation, thanks to a low-flow stream experiment from the 1990s. The park has a picnic area, casting pool, archery targets and the occasional art installation.
Follow the trail under the Colorado Street Bridge, past the Rose Bowl, and over the Devil’s Gate Dam to access the Hahamonga Watershed Park. (Or you can drive and park at North Windsor Avenue and Mountain View Street — exit 22B off the 210 Freeway). This large nature preserve is a favorite of foragers and Frisbee golfers. Here, in the shadow of JPL at the base of the foothills, are several picnic areas and many trails, including a three-mile loop.

The San Gabriels
Most of our region’s history began in these mountains. They were first occupied by the native Tongva (dubbed Gabrieleños by the Spanish). When Europeans arrived, the mountains provided lumber for the early valley settlements, which quickly evolved into a hotbed of prospecting and home to world-renowned resorts. There are dozens of places to escape civilization, and a drive up California State Route 2 will reveal many pullouts with trailheads and picnic spots. If you are a hiker, you can start in Pasadena and wind your way across the range, past the ruins of the Echo Mountain House, up the Mt. Lowe Railway track to the remains of the defunct Ye Alpine Tavern and Inspiration Point. Trails head out from here to Chantry Flat and the Mt. Wilson Observatory, both of which can also be accessed by car and have great picnic areas.
Millard Falls, at the base of the foothills, is an easy hike to a great waterfall (when it rains). The trailhead has a picnic area and campground. Take Chaney Trail off Loma Alta Drive 1.5 miles to the parking lot.
The Cobb Estate, at the top of Lake Avenue, is the trailhead for the Echo Mountain hike, but it is also the remains of what must have been a splendid mansion built with Charles Cobb’s lumber fortune. After Cobb’s death the property was deeded to the Freemasons, who sold it to a religious order; the Marx Brothers bought it in 1956. The surrounding land is rumored to be haunted, and there have been Bigfoot sightings. What more persuasion do you need?! There is no formal picnic area, but there are plenty of places to pull up a log.
Eaton Canyon has long been a favorite family hiking spot — partly because the trails are fairly flat, and there is a waterfall at the end of it (sometimes). Best of all, there is a super nature center, with stuffed raccoons and the like. It’s a lovely spot, and there is a huge picnic area at the trailhead. The nature center also offers night hikes from time to time.
Within the City of Pasadena there are parks galore. One of my favorite spots is Arlington Garden (275 Arlington Dr.), a beautiful three acres of water-wise serenity. There is plenty of seating hidden throughout, making it a perfect spot for a quick dose of peace and quiet.
All across the region you can find open spaces with trails, tended and not. In my neighborhood there’s a huge undeveloped spot called Elephant Hill, with spectacular views for the price of a trudge up a fire road. And just as close is Debs Park, with more great views, a lake, a picnic area, an Audubon center and plenty of trails.
In short, there are ample ways for residents to get away from the city’s hustle and commune with nature. So pack a lunch (or buy one — there is no shortage of places to pick up a lunch-to-go, if that’s how you roll), get out of your car and see this town from a new, natural perspective.

CHICKEN HAND PIES

I love a great picnic. I love cooking it, packing it and watching the look on my companion’s face as the unknown meal is slowly revealed al fresco. Although my search for the perfect picnic food is ongoing, I tend to fall back on those that are tried and true. This recipe is based on one my mom made when I was growing up. I think it originally came from the Pillsbury Bake-Off. These pies were my absolute favorite. When I discovered them in the picnic basket or, on the most wondrous days, my lunchbox, all was right with the world.

INGREDIENTS

3 ounces ricotta cheese
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
1 small roasted red pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon minced sun-dried tomato
2 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried
oregano
Sea salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces of puff pastry, pie dough or
crescent-roll dough, rolled out into eight
rectangles, about 4-by-5-by-¼ inch
1 tablespoon melted butter
½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

METHOD

1. Preheat oven to 350°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl mix together the cheese and chicken until well combined. Add the pepper, tomato, scallions, parsley, herbs, salt and pepper, and combine thoroughly.

2. Spoon a half-cup of chicken salad onto the center of each dough rectangle, fold pastry over and seal. Brush the tops with melted butter, then sprinkle each with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until dough is golden brown. Eat right away, or cool and refrigerate until your picnic.

Leslie Bilderback is a chef and cookbook author, a certified master baker and an art history instructor. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.

Can astronomers help save our planet? Pasadena’s Marja Seidel travels to Earth’s most remote spots, explaining our unique place in the universe to underserved children

“Right now, we are spinning at around 800,000 kilometers per hour around the center of our galaxy, and at around 100,000 kilometers per hour around the sun. And every day we follow our routines and forget how lucky we really are to be living on this unique planet.” That’s astronomer Marja Seidel introducing a short film about one of her recent expeditions to very remote areas of the globe, helping others to understand the uniqueness of our planet, its place in the universe and the need to preserve it.
Seidel, 29, has reached thousands of people on five continents with her unusual outreach missions, bringing knowledge of the universe to those who otherwise have no access to such information. A newly minted resident of Pasadena, she was born in Waltrop, Germany, received her bachelor’s degree in physics and earth and space sciences at Jacobs University in Bremen and in October, 2015, received her Ph.D. in astrophysics at Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias on Spain’s Canary Islands. Earlier this year she finished a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, where her research focused on the formation of galaxies and the influence of dark matter. Seidel has just signed on as a scientist with Caltech’s IPAC division, which partners with NASA, JPL and the worldwide research community to advance exploration of the universe and provide information-outreach programs for the public.
We spoke with Seidel for this family and education issue not because of her career per se, but because of her distinctive extracurricular accomplishments, spreading what she has called “visions of the cosmos” near and far. Last summer, while pursuing her postdoctoral research, she organized a project for underserved schoolchildren here in Pasadena, so they could learn about the Great American Eclipse and then observe it through glasses and telescopes she had donated for the occasion. “Even in a place like California, resources can be scarce,” she said. “Some schools might not even have funds for a science teacher in certain grades. Cooperating with the Pasadena United Schools District [PUSD], we identified five schools that had a focus on STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics), but were located in underprivileged areas. The idea was to provide them with telescopes, education material and workshops to fully take advantage of the eclipse with their students and to possibly continue astronomy education at their schools.”
On one recent global expedition, Seidel and an ecologist friend traveled for two months by horseback and paraglider to remote villages in Colombia’s Andes. In their backpacks they carried telescopes, binoculars, inflatable models of the solar system, Play-Doh and other crafts items to help inspire villagers, particularly children, with the joy of discovery. Joy seems to be a key component in her outreach missions, which combine a love of nature and adventure sports with a passion for science. The aim of the Colombia project, titled “Cielo y Tierra (Heaven and Earth),” was not to hold formal classes in astronomy or ecology, she says, but simply to lead entertaining experiments and exchanges that open people’s minds to all the wonders out there for them to discover. Seidel’s own joie de vivre is evidenced in the short film of this odyssey at cieloytierra-project.com, which shows the two women gliding above the clouds, trekking on horses through spectacular terrain and connecting with villagers who may have no access to technology, may never have seen a telescope or binoculars before and have certainly never encountered young women scientists gliding down from the sky to explain our unique planet and its relationship to the heavens.
From Seidel’s profile page on a couch-surfing website, we learned that in addition to paragliding and horseback riding, she climbs mountains and volcanos, surfs, hikes, scuba dives, skydives, has a pilot’s license, plays saxophone, has been in several bands, plays “a bit of guitar,” speaks five languages, has lived in five countries and has visited 30, which she lists alphabetically.
We first contacted Seidel while she was working with Carnegie Observatory’s telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert, then talked with her a few days later via Skype when she was visiting Germany.

You’ve written that even as a child, you knew you wanted to be an astronomer. Were your parents scientists, or how did that happen at such a young age?
My parents weren’t scientists. I think there were many triggers. It happened that at a very young age I experienced some comets, and then some other public observations, and so I started reading about astronomy at around 10 years. I actually started reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and I didn’t understand much because I was so young still, but I found it very fascinating. Where I lived in Waltrop is densely populated, so the skies are not very clear, but when we went to more remote places during the holidays I could see the stars. And the light from the stars is basically millions and millions of years old — you are looking into the past of the universe. This was all fascinating, and so I started going to youth astronomy camps at about 15. The first was in Germany, then some international astronomy youth camps in the Czech Republic, Poland and other places.

When did you realize that science outreach was necessary, and you wanted to visit remote places to share your knowledge?
I have always had a passion to share what I’m doing. In high school and as an undergraduate I already was involved in social outreach activities, reaching out to communities with very low resources. This kind of led me to know that there is a need, that there are many people in this world who do not have the same starting position and a lot of things need to be done [to assist them]. I think education is a key to making society evolve, and astronomy is a very powerful visual tool to get people interested in science. You have a telescope and just let people observe, and then ask questions. Not that they, in the end, have to study astronomy, but just to get them curious about science and know there is so much out there to discover.
So going to remote areas was a decision made after doing some research on where NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are going. I found there is a huge difference between urban and rural areas. There are not many organizations that go to remote and rural areas of developing countries. And in those areas, so many children still drop out of primary school because they are not encouraged to get an education. They’re told the only things they can do is to work in the fields or, in the worst case, go into drug trafficking. So that was something we wanted to address.

you’ve referred readers to Carl Sagan’s 1994 Pale Blue Dot book in some of your writing and talks. He says that astronomy is a humbling and character-building DIscipline that reminds us we are just this tiny planet spinning in one small galaxy among trillions of galaxies in a vast cosmos, and yet we’re the only place known so far to harbor life. Photographed from space, earth has no borders, no nationalities. We humans are all one species, and we have to take care of each other and of our planet or all hope is lost. You feel that’s relevant for today?
Yes, this is definitely my philosophy, and something that motivates me. I actually learned about Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot rather late, when I was already over 20, and I realized I had written down very similar thoughts. Astonomy offers a very different perspective on life here on earth. What we often do as an inquiry activity is build a solar system to scale…and we see how little the solar system is in our galaxy and how little our galaxy is compared to all the billions and billions of galaxies in the universe. This really gives a sense of scale and perspective and can lead to this feeling of global citizenship where you feel part of one humanity, which is on this little space ship called Earth. I definitely am convinced that if we do not start thinking that everyone on Earth is just one humanity, if we do not stop thinking about the differences between us, but about how similar we all actually are…and that from space, the earth is seen really without any physical borders…if we do not start thinking in that direction, then I don’t see that there’s a future for humanity.

Do you see much hope?
If we do start thinking that way, then yes. I think this is a very [assertive] step we must take as humans, to start thinking of us as one humanity. When I talk to businesspeople, I sometimes ask them: If you have a company and everyone works against each other in all the departments, does the company run well? No. So the departments all have to work together as one company. Well, the earth is like one company. We have to work together instead of against each other.

You visit these children in remote places, where they have so little formal education. I know you bring crafts and telescopes, but is it really possible to enlighten them about such complicated things as the solar system and our place in the universe?
It’s possible anywhere. Imagination is never limited just because your resources are limited. Everyone, even in the most remote areas, has a lot of imagination and dreams. I think when you learn about something like astronomy, you think, wow, this has changed me. Just because of this one experience, this one little match being lit, my life has changed. They can see there are lots of other opportunities and things to think about in life. Maybe different types of jobs they never imagined before. These people always have very interesting questions, and we are staying in touch with some of them and trying to train local collaborators where possible to continue the work.

If you had one thing to say to nonscientists, who rarely think about all this, what would it be?
Never stop being curious and surprised at what the universe might give you. And really start appreciating our planet’s place in the universe and how very special our planet is. Keep thinking about that!

Ideas for Middle Grade Readers and Their Parents

When my son was a tot, I delighted in reading to him from my favorite picture books — Frog & Toad! Stuart Little! — and zealously sought out new titles for us both to enjoy. Even when he could read without my help, I spent a lot of time scoping out books for him. But I knew less about what he was actually reading.
Then along came Harry. My son devoured the Potter books and was eager to discuss them. My husband and I wanted to know what the hoopla was all about, so we headed to Hogwarts ourselves. Our 9-year-old would beg us to catch up — but not read ahead of him.
Thus was launched an explosion of middle-grade book reading in our house. We all read Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid, then we split off, the boys reading the action/adventure titles, mom and son discussing realistic fiction.
For too many kids, reading for fun drops off in the tween years, says my colleague Kitty Felde, host of the Book Club for Kids podcast, which I produce. “Middle school is the battleground where we lose readers,” she says, “so if we can hook them there, we’ve got them for life.”
In school, young children first learn to read, but as they get older they read to learn. The more your child reads, the more fluent he becomes, so, dear Reader, I offer some suggestions:

Readers in Chief
The best thing you can do to support your child is read yourself. “If you’re a reader and you are talking about how fabulous it is,” says Carrie Ann Johnson, reading specialist and adjunct professor at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, “that really sets the tone for the household, especially if you have both parents as readers.” She adds that it’s also important to tell kids about your experiences not liking a book: “Then reluctant readers get the idea that it could just be the book, it’s not just me.”
Parents frequently run on empty, and reading middle-grade and young-adult (Y.A.) novels yourself is an energy-efficient strategy. Plus, there’s a lot of writing talent here, including Linda Sue Park, Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Applegate, Kwame Alexander and Avi. Granted, you will find some of your kid’s favorites insufferable, but you’ll get a better sense of her interests and gain insight into the minds of tweens and teens.
To find the good stuff, I scour The New York Times Book Review, two bookstores — Vroman’s in Pasadena and Once Upon A Time in Montrose — online lists of funny middle grade books and the library. I also listen to the recommendations of kids featured on the reading podcast at BookClubforKids.org, and I charmingly (embarrassingly) interrogate my kid’s friends.
When a book seems like it might interest my kid — let’s call him by his podcasting handle, Mr. Waffles — I’ll dive in. If I like it, I’ll keep reading and recommend it to Waffles. Many books are rejected: too scary, too mature, not interesting. I don’t finish most of them, but usually I’ve read enough to pass some on with a comment such as: “You might like this, it’s about a dragon whose best friend is a mouse.”

So Many Books
Johnson says the financial success of J.K Rowling’s books prompted publishers to invest in middle grade and Y.A. books: “So there is a plethora of material — the variety is immense.”
Mr. Waffles enjoys a wide range of books, although mostly fiction. His favorite genres are fantasy, animal stories, realistic fiction and some historical fiction. Other kids, however, are tougher customers. “This is why you need to be an expert in the market, so you will have the knowledge to pull the book that will be perfect for your child,” Johnson says.
You can also outsource — librarians are eager to help. “Our goal is to match your child with books they enjoy,” says Katherine Loeser, head of the Glendale Library Children’s Department. “It’s not that you are ever interrupting us, we are just keeping busy until you come and see us.”
Fantasy is an especially popular genre these days. But some of these books can be intense — loaded with conflict and violence, so you might want to review them first. Don’t shy away from historical fiction, though: You’ll learn something you can discuss with your kid.
Mr. Waffles especially appreciates well-written funny books. Authors we recommend: Richard Peck, Stuart Gibbs, Gordan Korman, Jennifer Holm and Jack Gantos.
Which reminds me, just because your kid can read a book targeted at older kids doesn’t mean she should. In particular, so-called high-low books are designed for older kids who aren’t strong readers. They’re a good choice for reluctant readers, but can be too mature for younger kids.
And while I’m at it, please don’t assume your child will only enjoy books about kids like himself. The popularity of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder shows us that kids appreciate stories that find the common humanity among diverse people. Mr. Waffles loves the young reader’s edition of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, I Am Malala, as well as William Kamkwamba’s autobiographical The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

It’s All Good
Another hot genre is the graphic novel. Just because it’s popular with reluctant readers doesn’t mean it’s for dummies. In addition to great art, many graphic novels use sophisticated vocabulary and cover complex topics. Also, the pictures help readers interpret the text. Johnson says studies have shown that kids who love graphic novels often become superior readers in the long run. “So it’s actually an excellent choice,” she says.
Now that you’ll be auditioning a lot of books, I’ve got a few financial tips. One, the Pasadena Public Library will transfer books from any Pasadena or Glendale library to your nearest branch, no charge. Two, ThriftBooks.com has a giant selection of used books for around $4 apiece. (But please frequent your local bookstore; there’s no substitute for the advice you’ll get there.) Three, swap books with friends.
Reading Levels
While a reading level can help you identify a book that’s in the ballpark, especially for beginners, once your child is a solid reader, you need only scan the first few pages to see if it seems right.
Insisting that your child stick to books that are challenging is a good way to kill his enthusiasm. “The accelerated reading has taken the pleasure out of some books,” says Loeser, referring to a system of rating books and rewarding students for reading more difficult ones. It saddens her to watch children “who [want] a 3.5 book put it back to find a 4.5 because they’ll get more points.”
If your child reads a lot, she’ll be exposed to a wide vocabulary, so there’s no need to strong-arm her into reading fewer, more difficult books. “Reading specialists will argue if the child is truly passionate about and compelled to read a book, that is the book they should be reading,” says Johnson.

Beyond Books
Reading material is everywhere, so load your child with opportunities. Some popular options at our house: the new monthly kids’ section in the Sunday New York Times, Los Angeles Times Sunday comics, magazines like National Geographic Kids and Muse in the car and newspaper articles for discussion at the dinner table (check out the website Newsela.com).
Audiobooks! Mr. Waffles has been an ardent Audible subscriber for nine of his 11 years. He likes to revisit books he’s already read and finds some nonfiction content more palatable in audio form. “There are amazing audiobooks out there, and there are high- level actors who are now [voicing] audiobooks,” Loeser says.

Yet More Tips
Meeting a favorite (or soon-to-be favorite) author can be inspirational for kids. Mr. Waffles even cadged an interview for his book podcast, The Book Meese.
Loeser attributes her love of books to a mother who continued to read to her long after she could do it herself. Johnson also endorses reading aloud to older children; she expands the material her 11-year-old twins are exposed to by reading noteworthy books to them.
Sometimes kids just need a little boost, so reading even the first pages of a book to your child can help him get hooked.
Still, even voracious readers have days when they’d rather be playing video games. So here’s my final tip: snacks. When encouragement is needed, invite your kid to join you for popcorn while you take turns reading an exciting new book.

If your child, school or library is interested in participating in the Book Club for Kids podcast, email me at bookclubforkidsproducer@gmail.com. More information at BookClubforKids.org. You can find Mr. Waffles’ middle-grade books podcast (SoundCloud.com/BookMeese) in iTunes podcasts and on the RadioPublic and KidsListen apps.

More and more grandparents are raising grandkids as drug addiction ensnares their own children

When Mike and Amber St. Germain were anticipating retirement, they envisioned traveling a couple times a year to Italy and other dreamy destinations. But in 2012, their daughter, then 18, had a baby. She moved in with her parents — her baby, Addison, and Addison’s father in tow. After stealing from a neighbor, Addison’s father disappeared, and her mother, who had a substance abuse problem, was incapable of taking care of her.
So the St. Germains moved Addison’s crib into their bedroom, and their daughter moved out when she refused to follow “house rules” or take care of her baby; the grandparents established guardianship in 2013. Their daughter consented, said Mike St. Germain, because she knew her “lifestyle” was unhealthy for a baby. Now 5 years old, Addison knows her grandparents as the only parents she’s had. “She is a fantastic child,” said Mike St. Germain, 46, who retired from his job as a UPS regional manager in 2014 and lives outside of Atlanta with wife Amber, 45, two sons in their 20s and Addison.
“Initially, there was a lot of struggle, which is why we started a closed support group on Facebook [Grandparents Raising Grandchildren], so we could all talk to each other,” he said.
The St. Germains have plenty of company. About 2.6 million American children are being raised by their grandparents or other older relatives in what social scientists sometimes describe as “grandfamilies.” Experts say this number is rising sharply as the opioid epidemic and other kinds of substance abuse devastate families and communities across the country. A newly released book — You’ve Always Been There for Me: Understanding the Lives of Grandchildren Raised by Their Grandparents (Rutgers University Press) by Rachel Dunifon — analyzes data gathered from grandfamilies in New York to determine their distinct challenges and strengths.
Dunifon, a professor of policy analysis and management and chair of the human ecology department at Cornell University, notes that grandchildren benefit from the time-accrued maturity, wisdom and patience of grandparents who are raising children for a second time. But she notes there also can be struggles stemming from a sizable generation gap, age-related health problems, increased stress and worries over finite finances. Grandfamilies, a growing variant of the American family, are largely invisible to the public eye and rarely get the assistance they need from social service agencies, policymakers and family researchers.
“I would like to see how best to support this new family system, grandparents, the adult children and grandchildren, so that all are getting the support they need in this new phenomenon,” said Annette Ermshar, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist with practices in Pasadena and San Marino. “The percentage of grandparents who have taken over parenting has doubled. U.S. Census data says that in 2012, 10 percent of grandparents lived with their grandchildren compared to 3 percent in 1970. There is not a lot of research in terms of the mental health of the grandparents and the grandchildren.” In Los Angeles alone, some 300,000 grandparents are raising children, according to the L.A.-based Alliance for Children’s Rights.
With the opioid addiction crisis fueling the rise of grandfamilies, help arrived by legislative action last month. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging and ranking member Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) co-authored the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act. The move followed a May 2017 hearing featuring testimony from grandparents and others about the pressing need for older caretakers to have easy access to resources that would assist them.
The bill, signed into law last month by President Donald Trump, will create a one-stop shop of resources to support grandparents and other relatives (so-called “kinship families”) raising grandchildren. A federal advisory committee, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be established to identify, promote and distribute crucial information about the best ways to help caregiving relatives meet the unusual health, educational, psychological and nutritional needs of children they’ve taken in. A grandparent and another older relative raising a grandchild will be part of the committee. A report will be issued to Congress after six months, and again in two years on best practices and resources, along with noted gaps in services.
Caregivers’ need to maintain their own physical and emotional and mental well-being will also be addressed. Forty advocacy groups for older adults and children supported the bill. “Many of today’s low-income grandparent caregivers — sometimes great-grandparent caregivers — find themselves forced to cut their own retirement finances and defer their dreams” to care for their grandchildren, Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit that promotes policies and programs to assist grandfamilies, wrote in Forbes Magazine after the bill was signed into law.
Caring for grandchildren may come at a high cost to grandparents, but it provides a huge savings for the government. Older relatives providing safe haven to their imperiled grandchildren saves the U.S. government $6 billion a year, according to The Conversation (theconversation.com), an independent nonprofit online source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Custodial grandparents raising grandchildren are overrepresented in racial and ethnic minority groups, and 67 percent are younger than 60, while 25 percent live in poverty even though half of custodial grandparents are still working, according to the website. For grandparents worried about outliving their financial resources, the added expense of raising a grandchild adds layers of stress, worry and anxiety. But out of love, and without regard to the cost, grandparents swoop in because there is no other option.
Indeed, with the rise in heroin addiction and other substance abuse, grandparents taking charge is often precipitated by devastating struggles with their own adult children that leave them emotionally wrung out — whipsawed between anger, sadness and exhaustion. Like the St. Germains’ daughter, Judi LeCompte’s daughter moved in immediately after giving birth to Gianna in 2008. When LeCompte’s daughter, who had an oxycodone addiction, tried to put Gianna, then 18 months old, in a booster seat instead of a car seat for a ride in a Honda Civic with four adults and two other kids in car seats, LeCompte “lost it.”
“I just went insane,” said LeCompte, who is 60. “It was a nightmare. I just said, ‘You no longer live here. She is mine.’ So we had to figure it out. Either Gianna lived with us or she went to foster care.” LeCompte, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb with her husband, Karl, 65, called state Children and Youth Services and the next day, an order was drawn up limiting Gianna’s mother to supervised visits with her daughter twice a month for three hours. The court also gave LeCompte the right to drug test her daughter anytime she wanted.
LeCompte said she has legal guardianship of Gianna, now 9. A federal bankruptcy manager for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia, she said she will not adopt Gianna out of fear it would push her daughter, who suffers from mental health issues as well as addiction, over the edge. LeCompte also has a second daughter who is a heroin addict currently in jail on a felony drug conviction, although she has tested clean for over a year. That daughter’s child, Arianna, lived with LeCompte for nine months along with Gianna. Arianna now lives with her paternal grandparents. “You cannot imagine how tragic this is unless you are in it, every day,” said LeCompte.
When a parent is struggling with addiction and mental illness, it leaves grandparents with a whirl of decisions to make — most often in a moment of crisis. For many, postponing retirement, navigating school systems, securing custody through the court system, finding mental and emotional-health supports and overcoming a generation gap are part of a web of challenges that accompany a second round of parenthood. The grandchildren are often fragile and damaged from what they been through. Grandparents are “replacing traumatic pasts with loving and hopeful futures,” as Sen. Collins told AARP.org.
“These children have emotional baggage,” said Carmen Hoffman, director of the Los Angeles chapter of Grandparents as Parents (GAP), a program of OneGeneration, a Van Nuys–based nonprofit supporting seniors and grandfamilies, which last month added GAP, a 31-year-old nonprofit, to the organization’s offerings of resources. “They don’t know why they feel this way. And these grandparents, it is all new to them, the technology has changed, everything has changed [since they raised their children].”
OneGeneration’s GAP program runs 10 support groups throughout L.A. County (a Pasadena group disbanded due to poor attendance; the closest one is in Pomona). The groups are free and vital to grandparents who often feel isolated in their plight and in great need of peer-to-peer counsel with the guiding hand of a facilitator. The power of shared experience diminishes those feelings of isolation, said Hoffman, who runs a group in Santa Clarita where the majority of grandparents are raising youngsters whose parents have succumbed to opioid addictions. Facebook support groups like St. Germain’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren have provided a powerful place to share and vent, especially for people with no access to in-person grandfamily support groups. Websites and Facebook pages like The Addict’s Mom, The Parents of Drug Addicts and Before The Petals Fall are also helping to fill that void.
After the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes ran a segment in May on grandparents raising grandchildren due to the ravages of the opioid epidemic, St. Germain said his Facebook group almost tripled within a month, increasing to 2,000 from 700. There are now 4,500 members with more joining at a rate of 15 to 20 a day. The group is closed, meaning people have to request permission to join. In a 28-day period last month, St. Germain, the group administrator, said there were 138,000 posts from grandparents raising grandchildren and that 90 percent have adult children in the grip of addiction to opioids, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines or “all of the above.”
“Sometimes they post just to vent, sometimes it is to share information — look what I found on this website, or about a book,” said St. Germain. “Especially with children of addicts, they have all these unique issues. Some are developmental delays, Asperger’s, autism, physical disabilities. Some are as simple as ‘How in the world do I potty train this child?’”
Though grandparents can apply for Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF), foster care payments, subsidized guardianship, child support payments, social security benefits or tax credits, navigating a bureaucratic maze is complex and daunting. Each funding source has advantages and disadvantages and should be evaluated for what best fits a grandfamily’s particular needs, according to Generations United. GAP did have a staff member assigned to the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park to assist grandparents establish guardianship, but the post has not been staffed due to lack of funding. In lieu of a personal navigator, Hoffman recommends downloading the Resource Family Approval Toolkit at kids-alliance.org, the website of Alliance for Children’s Rights.
Many of the government-funded assistance programs require grandparents to adopt rather than establish guardianship, which can create an additional hurdle. Judi LeCompte will not adopt her granddaughter Gianna because her daughter refuses to agree to it, and that means that her Social Security benefits cannot go to Gianna. This is a source of deep worry, she says.
For Mike St. Germain, anything that compromises his daughter recovering from her addiction, getting back on her feet and becoming a healthy mother to Addison is not an option. He and wife Amber fear that if they apply for government help, the state or federal government could seek child support payments from their daughter, whose addiction started when she began stealing her father’s pain pills prescribed for his back and graduated to benzodiazepines. She’s currently on probation following incarceration for credit card theft and must test drug-free to stay out of jail. Said Germain: “I tend to not want to step over that line because it will just make her position that much more difficult.”

While Fleeing your hot kitchen this summer, be thankful for eatery staff stuck in theirs

Today it was 85 degrees at 7 a.m. And the air conditioner broke last night. So there is no way I want to cook.
Scrolling through Instagram I see images of my chef friends in their kitchens, showcasing their beautiful breads and pastries and creative dinners, and I am reminded of how horrendous it is to work in a professional kitchen in a heat wave. It’s right up there with dry cleaning, construction and Caltrans sign work. No one wants to cook at home when the weather is like this, so up-and-running restaurants are essential. I wanted to take a minute to remind you about these steadfast workers the next time you throw in the kitchen towel in favor of a night out in an air-conditioned restaurant.
First of all, it’s hard for anyone to look good in the heat, and your waitstaff is suffering more than most. Hustling from table to table makes one break a sweat even in the winter, so imagine what it’s like in August. They know that a clean, pressed waiter gets better tips — no one wants their meal served by a sweat monkey. So when the temperature spikes, your servers need a chance to cool their jets. In a heat wave there is no relief in the kitchen (which, on a good night, is 15 degrees hotter than the dining room), making it unavailable as the preferred spot to hide from customers. The only option is the back alley, which usually smells like cigarettes and dumpster.
Not a respite.
The walk-in refrigerators and freezers shift from being the place of clandestine rendezvous to being the de facto break room for the kitchen staff. That leads to a lot of opening and closing of the big door, which raises the temperature and makes its primary job (keeping food from spoiling) that much harder. I once had to make a run for dry ice in a heat wave because even the freezer could not set my panna cotta.
Not efficient.
And any kind of baking is particularly difficult in the heat. A shiver just went up my spine from a memory of reaching in and out of a deck oven to rotate a batch of baguettes on a hot day. In a hot kitchen the buttercream gets runny, yeast doughs ferment too fast and chocolate melts prematurely. Laminated doughs are particularly challenging. If you have ever tried to make puff pastry at home, you know it’s already anxiety-inducing. Now add volume and heat. We know y’all want your breakfast croissants, but folding layers of butter into dough in triple-digit weather is messy at best. Each layer needs to be chilled extra long, which makes the process longer and strains the fridge even more.
Not worth it.
By far the worst place to be in a heat wave is over the grill. Flipping burgers and patty melts is always a hot station. It’s not like your backyard, where you get an occasional breeze as, beer in hand, you tend to your four steaks. The grill station is a full-time job. It’s an entire shift of blistering heat. Dunking a neckerchief in ice water offers temporary relief, but the only real solution is to go back to school and get a degree, so you never have to do that again.
Not really always feasible.
I have never been a fan of the chef uniform, but it is extra awful in the heat. It protects the cook from fire and grime, but unless you are the boss sporting a special summer coat made of Egyptian cotton, it is usually long-sleeved and polyester. Even worse, uniforms are usually communal. “Lucky” cooks work in a shop with a linen service that provides a clean jacket every day. But in my experience, you are only really lucky if you have the early shift, when the regular sizes are available. Afternoon workers are either floating inside an XXXL coat or stuffed into the XS like an andouille sausage. Liberal kitchen managers allow tank tops and shorts in a heat wave, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Bare arms expose the cooks to injury and diners to our sweat and body hair. An unappetizing thought, I know. I wore shorts in a heat wave only once. My apron was longer, so I looked pantless, and at the end of the shift my bare legs had taken the brunt of spills.
Not a good look.
In a heat wave the ice machine is at a premium. Ice not only cools your beverage but also chills stocks, stores fish, shocks blanched veggies and keeps your crème anglaise out of the danger zone during service. On more than one hot night I have had to run out for auxiliary bags of ice.
Not economical.
The heat also tends to drive pests inside. In food service, that’s a code red. Ants are particularly ruthless and will go to any length to get to the sugar bin. (I would counsel against ordering anything with “poppy seeds” in a heat wave. They might have legs. I fully expect to find a line of those industrious bugs zigzagging through the kitchen every morning during a hot spell. But insecticides wreak havoc on the palate, so I have tried everything from chopped mint to magic ant chalk to keep them at bay. The only thing that ever really worked was moving the sugar to the walk-in (which hogs up precious breakroom space).
Not ideal.
There are times — many of them — when I miss restaurant life and question my decision to retire. But not in the summer. Not in a heat wave. I understand the inclination to dine out in this kind of weather. And you should, because these folks still need to make a living, even when they’d rather stay home and sit in a backyard kiddie pool. But I implore you — remember their suffering when you tip. Give ’em a little extra bump. They’ve more than earned it, just by showing up.

More and more grandparents are raising grandkids as drug addiction ensnares their own children

When Mike and Amber St. Germain were anticipating retirement, they envisioned traveling a couple times a year to Italy and other dreamy destinations. But in 2012, their daughter, then 18, had a baby. She moved in with her parents — her baby, Addison, and Addison’s father in tow. After stealing from a neighbor, Addison’s father disappeared, and her mother, who had a substance abuse problem, was incapable of taking care of her.
So the St. Germains moved Addison’s crib into their bedroom, and their daughter moved out when she refused to follow “house rules” or take care of her baby; the grandparents established guardianship in 2013. Their daughter consented, said Mike St. Germain, because she knew her “lifestyle” was unhealthy for a baby. Now 5 years old, Addison knows her grandparents as the only parents she’s had. “She is a fantastic child,” said Mike St. Germain, 46, who retired from his job as a UPS regional manager in 2014 and lives outside of Atlanta with wife Amber, 45, two sons in their 20s and Addison.
“Initially, there was a lot of struggle, which is why we started a closed support group on Facebook [Grandparents Raising Grandchildren], so we could all talk to each other,” he said.
The St. Germains have plenty of company. About 2.6 million American children are being raised by their grandparents or other older relatives in what social scientists sometimes describe as “grandfamilies.” Experts say this number is rising sharply as the opioid epidemic and other kinds of substance abuse devastate families and communities across the country. A newly released book — You’ve Always Been There for Me: Understanding the Lives of Grandchildren Raised by Their Grandparents (Rutgers University Press) by Rachel Dunifon — analyzes data gathered from grandfamilies in New York to determine their distinct challenges and strengths.
Dunifon, a professor of policy analysis and management and chair of the human ecology department at Cornell University, notes that grandchildren benefit from the time-accrued maturity, wisdom and patience of grandparents who are raising children for a second time. But she notes there also can be struggles stemming from a sizable generation gap, age-related health problems, increased stress and worries over finite finances. Grandfamilies, a growing variant of the American family, are largely invisible to the public eye and rarely get the assistance they need from social service agencies, policymakers and family researchers.
“I would like to see how best to support this new family system, grandparents, the adult children and grandchildren, so that all are getting the support they need in this new phenomenon,” said Annette Ermshar, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist with practices in Pasadena and San Marino. “The percentage of grandparents who have taken over parenting has doubled. U.S. Census data says that in 2012, 10 percent of grandparents lived with their grandchildren compared to 3 percent in 1970. There is not a lot of research in terms of the mental health of the grandparents and the grandchildren.” In Los Angeles alone, some 300,000 grandparents are raising children, according to the L.A.-based Alliance for Children’s Rights.
With the opioid addiction crisis fueling the rise of grandfamilies, help arrived by legislative action last month. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging and ranking member Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) co-authored the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act. The move followed a May 2017 hearing featuring testimony from grandparents and others about the pressing need for older caretakers to have easy access to resources that would assist them.
The bill, signed into law last month by President Donald Trump, will create a one-stop shop of resources to support grandparents and other relatives (so-called “kinship families”) raising grandchildren. A federal advisory committee, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be established to identify, promote and distribute crucial information about the best ways to help caregiving relatives meet the unusual health, educational, psychological and nutritional needs of children they’ve taken in. A grandparent and another older relative raising a grandchild will be part of the committee. A report will be issued to Congress after six months, and again in two years on best practices and resources, along with noted gaps in services.
Caregivers’ need to maintain their own physical and emotional and mental well-being will also be addressed. Forty advocacy groups for older adults and children supported the bill. “Many of today’s low-income grandparent caregivers — sometimes great-grandparent caregivers — find themselves forced to cut their own retirement finances and defer their dreams” to care for their grandchildren, Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit that promotes policies and programs to assist grandfamilies, wrote in Forbes Magazine after the bill was signed into law.
Caring for grandchildren may come at a high cost to grandparents, but it provides a huge savings for the government. Older relatives providing safe haven to their imperiled grandchildren saves the U.S. government $6 billion a year, according to The Conversation (theconversation.com), an independent nonprofit online source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Custodial grandparents raising grandchildren are overrepresented in racial and ethnic minority groups, and 67 percent are younger than 60, while 25 percent live in poverty even though half of custodial grandparents are still working, according to the website. For grandparents worried about outliving their financial resources, the added expense of raising a grandchild adds layers of stress, worry and anxiety. But out of love, and without regard to the cost, grandparents swoop in because there is no other option.
Indeed, with the rise in heroin addiction and other substance abuse, grandparents taking charge is often precipitated by devastating struggles with their own adult children that leave them emotionally wrung out — whipsawed between anger, sadness and exhaustion. Like the St. Germains’ daughter, Judi LeCompte’s daughter moved in immediately after giving birth to Gianna in 2008. When LeCompte’s daughter, who had an oxycodone addiction, tried to put Gianna, then 18 months old, in a booster seat instead of a car seat for a ride in a Honda Civic with four adults and two other kids in car seats, LeCompte “lost it.”
“I just went insane,” said LeCompte, who is 60. “It was a nightmare. I just said, ‘You no longer live here. She is mine.’ So we had to figure it out. Either Gianna lived with us or she went to foster care.” LeCompte, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb with her husband, Karl, 65, called state Children and Youth Services and the next day, an order was drawn up limiting Gianna’s mother to supervised visits with her daughter twice a month for three hours. The court also gave LeCompte the right to drug test her daughter anytime she wanted.
LeCompte said she has legal guardianship of Gianna, now 9. A federal bankruptcy manager for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia, she said she will not adopt Gianna out of fear it would push her daughter, who suffers from mental health issues as well as addiction, over the edge. LeCompte also has a second daughter who is a heroin addict currently in jail on a felony drug conviction, although she has tested clean for over a year. That daughter’s child, Arianna, lived with LeCompte for nine months along with Gianna. Arianna now lives with her paternal grandparents. “You cannot imagine how tragic this is unless you are in it, every day,” said LeCompte.
When a parent is struggling with addiction and mental illness, it leaves grandparents with a whirl of decisions to make — most often in a moment of crisis. For many, postponing retirement, navigating school systems, securing custody through the court system, finding mental and emotional-health supports and overcoming a generation gap are part of a web of challenges that accompany a second round of parenthood. The grandchildren are often fragile and damaged from what they been through. Grandparents are “replacing traumatic pasts with loving and hopeful futures,” as Sen. Collins told AARP.org.
“These children have emotional baggage,” said Carmen Hoffman, director of the Los Angeles chapter of Grandparents as Parents (GAP), a program of OneGeneration, a Van Nuys–based nonprofit supporting seniors and grandfamilies, which last month added GAP, a 31-year-old nonprofit, to the organization’s offerings of resources. “They don’t know why they feel this way. And these grandparents, it is all new to them, the technology has changed, everything has changed [since they raised their children].”
OneGeneration’s GAP program runs 10 support groups throughout L.A. County (a Pasadena group disbanded due to poor attendance; the closest one is in Pomona). The groups are free and vital to grandparents who often feel isolated in their plight and in great need of peer-to-peer counsel with the guiding hand of a facilitator. The power of shared experience diminishes those feelings of isolation, said Hoffman, who runs a group in Santa Clarita where the majority of grandparents are raising youngsters whose parents have succumbed to opioid addictions. Facebook support groups like St. Germain’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren have provided a powerful place to share and vent, especially for people with no access to in-person grandfamily support groups. Websites and Facebook pages like The Addict’s Mom, The Parents of Drug Addicts and Before The Petals Fall are also helping to fill that void.
After the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes ran a segment in May on grandparents raising grandchildren due to the ravages of the opioid epidemic, St. Germain said his Facebook group almost tripled within a month, increasing to 2,000 from 700. There are now 4,500 members with more joining at a rate of 15 to 20 a day. The group is closed, meaning people have to request permission to join. In a 28-day period last month, St. Germain, the group administrator, said there were 138,000 posts from grandparents raising grandchildren and that 90 percent have adult children in the grip of addiction to opioids, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines or “all of the above.”
“Sometimes they post just to vent, sometimes it is to share information — look what I found on this website, or about a book,” said St. Germain. “Especially with children of addicts, they have all these unique issues. Some are developmental delays, Asperger’s, autism, physical disabilities. Some are as simple as ‘How in the world do I potty train this child?’”
Though grandparents can apply for Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF), foster care payments, subsidized guardianship, child support payments, social security benefits or tax credits, navigating a bureaucratic maze is complex and daunting. Each funding source has advantages and disadvantages and should be evaluated for what best fits a grandfamily’s particular needs, according to Generations United. GAP did have a staff member assigned to the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park to assist grandparents establish guardianship, but the post has not been staffed due to lack of funding. In lieu of a personal navigator, Hoffman recommends downloading the Resource Family Approval Toolkit at kids-alliance.org, the website of Alliance for Children’s Rights.
Many of the government-funded assistance programs require grandparents to adopt rather than establish guardianship, which can create an additional hurdle. Judi LeCompte will not adopt her granddaughter Gianna because her daughter refuses to agree to it, and that means that her Social Security benefits cannot go to Gianna. This is a source of deep worry, she says.
For Mike St. Germain, anything that compromises his daughter recovering from her addiction, getting back on her feet and becoming a healthy mother to Addison is not an option. He and wife Amber fear that if they apply for government help, the state or federal government could seek child support payments from their daughter, whose addiction started when she began stealing her father’s pain pills prescribed for his back and graduated to benzodiazepines. She’s currently on probation following incarceration for credit card theft and must test drug-free to stay out of jail. Said Germain: “I tend to not want to step over that line because it will just make her position that much more difficult.”